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By Jim Phillips

8 Benefits of Intermittent Fasting for Better Brain Health

Intermittent Fasting: Fad or Beneficial?

To me personally, it's absolutely beneficial. I typically don't eat until around noon every day. I drink Bright Mind or an occasional coffee in the morning and then get to work.

I find that eating early in the AM tends to feel like it slows me down. Carbs in particular make me tired. Therefore, my early afternoon foods consist of things like bacon, eggs, nuts, avocados, sardines, greens etc. Eating these keep me going without a heaviness feeling that reduces productivity. 

So, if it isn't detrimental and makes you feel better I'm all for it.

Let's get to the science.

What the Science Says

Intermittent fasting works by giving your body a break from constantly processing food. During the fasting periods, your body undergoes several changes, including changes to your:

  • Insulin levels: Fasting helps lower insulin levels, which can enhance fat burning and make stored body fat more accessible for energy.
  • Human growth hormone (HGH): Fasting can increase the levels of HGH, which can support fat loss and muscle gain.
  • Cellular repair: During fasting, your cells initiate a repair process called autophagy, where damaged components are removed and recycled.
  • Gene expression: Fasting can cause changes in the expression of certain genes related to longevity and protection against disease.

Emerging Brain Benefits:

Intermittent fasting has been studied for its potential benefits on various aspects of health, including the brain. While more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms, here are some potential benefits of intermittent fasting on the brain:

  1. Improved Cognitive Function: Fasting periods induce molecular changes that increase neuronal network activity in brain regions involved with cognition

  2. Neuroprotection: Intermittent fasting reduces the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. It may help the brain resist stress and protect against the accumulation of certain proteins associated with these conditions..

  3. Enhanced Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF): IF has been linked to increased levels of BDNF, a protein that supports the survival and growth of neurons. Higher BDNF levels are associated with improved cognitive function, mood regulation, and overall brain health.

  4. Reduced Inflammation: Chronic inflammation is linked to various health issues, including neurodegenerative diseases. Intermittent fasting reduces inflammation in the body, which positively impacts brain health

  5. Autophagy: Intermittent fasting induces a process called autophagy, where cells remove damaged components and recycle them. This cellular "clean-up" helps prevent the accumulation of misfolded proteins, which is relevant to neurodegenerative diseases.

  6. Better Blood Sugar Regulation: IF can improve insulin sensitivity and help regulate blood sugar levels. Stable blood sugar levels are essential for brain health, as the brain relies heavily on glucose for energy.

  7. Increased Ketone Production: During prolonged fasting periods, the body enters a state of ketosis, where it utilizes ketones for energy instead of glucose. Ketones are an alternative fuel source for the brain and may have neuroprotective effects.

  8. Enhanced Synaptic Plasticity: Intermittent fasting may support synaptic plasticity, which is crucial for learning and memory. This process involves the strengthening and modification of connections between neurons.


Types of Intermittent Fasting

Pre-Sleep Fast: A universal recommendation is to abstain from food or drink (excluding water) for at least three hours before bedtime. This approach aids digestion and allows the body to focus on nighttime repair and detoxification processes.

One Meal a Day (OMAD): This extreme variant of intermittent fasting involves consuming one substantial meal within a 1-hour window, followed by 23 hours of fasting. While it may yield benefits, it also poses the risk of overeating post-fasting due to compensatory behaviors.

Alternate Day Fasting: This approach alternates between days of regular eating and fasting. While it has shown promise in improving health markers in obese mice, the benefits may be attributed primarily to reduced overall caloric intake.

Fasting mimicking diet: also called the longevity diet, a diet that is suggested to follow multiple times a year for one week, from University of Southern California, it is a one week low calorie-diet and seems to show health improvement in sick patients. 

Time-Restricted Eating: This method involves confining eating to specific windows, such as consuming all meals between noon and 8 pm. Despite its social compatibility, aligning eating patterns with metabolic rhythms suggests that morning eating may be more beneficial than evening consumption. Consistency appears crucial for any potential benefits, even in healthy individuals.


In conclusion, while intermittent fasting presents intriguing possibilities for health and wellness, especially in specific populations, more comprehensive research is necessary to understand its full spectrum of effects and optimal applications.

If you haven't done it before, it will take some getting used to. After a week or so it will become habit. For years now I've practiced time-restricted eating and I no longer crave food in the AM hours. It's a productivity hack we won't be changing any time soon. 

 

Citations
Varady, K.A., Cienfuegos, S., Ezpeleta, M. et al. Clinical application of 
intermittent fasting for weight loss: progress and future directions. 

de Cabo R, Mattson MP. Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, 
and Disease. N Engl J Med. 2019 Dec 26;381(26):2541-2551.

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